What a 97% Consensus Looks Like…

I came across a clip from Last Week Tonight, an HBO comedy show, on Skeptical Science tonight. It may be a comedy but the show beautifully demonstrated exactly how to show what an overwhelming scientific consensus looks like. Instead of 1 climate scientist versus 1 skeptic, it was 3 skeptics versus 97 climate scientists!

Well worth the watch – available on You Tube here. Enjoy!


Electoral Digressions

It’s raining, so gardening and allotmenting are out today. The beasties are all snoozing in their cages, the bits for my planned hydroponics set up have arrived (I’ll do a post on that when I put it together) and I’ve just cast my vote for the European Elections. So, some musings on that other burning political question round here this year – Scottish Independence.

I’ll be honest on this. I’m torn here. My heart, romantic inclinations, patriotism etc all say Yes! (possibly even with blue face paint) but…. my head says Whoa!

One thing that any committed prepper/survivalist should do is plan for the contigencies. Planning for contingencies practically defines us, in fact! So…. what about the contingencies? Where’s the options if things don’t go the way the SNP want? What if we vote yes and then regret it because it all goes TU and the White Paper turns out (like most political wishful thinking) to be useful only as toilet tissue?

I’ve read the White Paper many times now – backwards, forwards, sideways, dipping in randomly and searching for stuff in relation to points made on the news/web/by mates in discussion. It is a slick document, and if you take it at face value you have to wonder why anyone in their right mind would vote No.

Let us admit, however, that a few crocodiles of reality lurk in the waters of Denial, ready to bite the behinds of those wallowing blissfully therein…..

Here’s a few questions that have received some very high-profile media coverage over the past few years.

Scotland’s defence policy, says the SNP, will be based on a small defence force and membership of NATO. We won’t need a big army because we won’t be projecting force, only defending ourselves. Very idealistic, very nice…. An independent Scotland will be nuclear free, with the Trident missile submarine base at Faslane de-nuked. If I lived in Glasgow I’d be ecstatic at the idea that the biggest military target in the UK wasn’t going to be within 50km of my doorstep, admittedly!

But what do NATO say? According to this article in the Scotsman from last August, they said “no”. Independent Scotland won’t be able to be a NATO member unless they (we) sign up for the nuclear first-strike policy and other countries within NATO apparently won’t play ball unless the nukes stay. I can’t imagine the rest of the UK (rUK, as the media seem to have dubbed it!) would be willing to play ball if the SNP have just made them remove Trident from Faslane and park it on the south coast of England instead – apparently the MoD don’t think that’s safe because if anything went wrong, hundreds of thousands of people live within the danger zone. (Hmmm…. but it’s okay to have 2.5 million Scots within the danger zone? Interesting attitude…..!)

So, maybe we won’t be part of NATO. What then?

A resounding silence ensues. The sound of a lack of contingency planning, I suspect. All the SNP are willing to say is that Scottish membership of NATO would be in the strategic interests of the rest of NATO. Possibly, but since when has that stopped any country or treaty organisation cutting off its nose to spite its own face?

Then again, if an independent Scotland kicks Trident out, that frees up the west of Scotland oil reserves for exploration and potential exploitation, since the MoD won’t let anyone drill there at the moment in case they’re in the way of a nuke sub exercise. Finding recoverable oil there would be good for the Scottish economy…. but bad for the the environment. Does the Scottish Government think about the carbon cost or the hydrocarbon revenue? (That was a rhetorical question – revenue always wins with politicians, especially if they’re politicians in a small country attempting to find its feet as an independent nation again).

Okay, let’s change the subject, since that one seems to have fizzled out. How about that wonderful currency union the SNP have said we’ll have, the one that means Scotland can carry on using the pound sterling after independence?

I might run out of linking ability if I tried to put in links to all the various variations on “no” coming from the Westminster government, the Westminster opposition parties, the Treasury, financial pundits and financial institutions. In fact, the only people saying “yes” to this scheme are the Yes Campaign, and it does still take two to tango. If the other partner(s) are determined to sit the dance out, it’s going to get lonely out there.

Contingency planning? Do we bring back the Scots Merk, invent a new currency? What do we back it with? Demand a share of UK gold reserves (per head or per share of GDP?) to fund our own brand-new central bank? (I strongly suspect we’d be marketing airborne pork before the gold arrived, btw!) We could probably back it with oil revenues and those come ashore in Scotland anyway. Yes? No? Maybe? Options?

Again, the sound of a changing subject from the Scottish Government and the Yes Campaign.

Okay. The EU. Now, I’m a Eurosceptic and would dearly love to see the UK pull out of the EU anyway, so up to a point I wouldn’t be heartbroken if the SNP’s EU-centric policy fell flat on its face. On the other hand, the economic sums only add up for independence if you assume that Scotland continues to get the EU subsidies and grants, and that’s taking the Government figures at face value (I don’t have the info or the maths skills to analyse the data for myself so I won’t argue with the official numbers, but let’s just say I’m a little sceptical about any government figures….). So, we’re going to be part of the EU.

Or are we? The EU president says not. The Spanish government says not – they’re afraid that Scotland going indy and joining the EU will encourage the Basque and Catalan separatists to follow suit. Italy might well be a little dubious, given recent independence-for-Venice noises. rUK might not openly say no, according to the letter of the Edinburgh Agreement, but I’d bet my bottom dollar (no currency union, remember….) that things will be said behind closed doors.

Actually, here we do have a response, or at least a so-there! from Alex Salmond. If we can’t be in the EU, the EU won’t be allowed to fish in Scottish waters. Apparently Mr Salmond has overlooked the playground truth that kicking the big boys in the shins doesn’t make them your friends afterwards. Most of Scotland’s exports go to EU nations, including rUK, so ticking them off over our collapsing fish stocks will probably have them slap some import duties on Scottish goods, which will hurt us a great deal more than it hurts them. Ouch.

Even if they do let us in, we’ll have to slap at least 15% VAT on everything across the board, because the UK’s various opt-outs over the years will not apply in an independent Scotland. More ouch. A great deal more ouch!

So, if we can’t be in the EU, what then? Someone pointed out to me the other day that if Scotland is a non-EU country, England will have to secure its border with Scotland to comply with EU border rules. Would I need my passport to cross from Gretna to Carlisle, then? This would also be a problem for any England-based preppers attempting to bug-out over the border if SHTF further south, too.

What about CAP? Scotland has one-third (approximately) of the land-mass of the UK and only 8.4% of the population – a lot of our land-mass is agricultural land, thinly populated and dependent on EU Common Agricultural Policy payments to make ends meet. The Scottish Government has guaranteed those payments for any interim period between independence and EU membership, but how long is that going to be and where’s the money coming from? Oil revenue? Taxes?

I could go on with more questions but I’d get bored and others probably already are.

All in all, there’s too many gaps between promises and likelihood for my taste. I have no doubt Scotland could go it alone as an independent country – but the process of sorting out the mess before it settles down promises to be a serious pile of brown stuff in the air conditioning system and I don’t know if we’d be better off or worse off after it does all settle out. I’m very sure it won’t be much fun getting there.

There’s still a bright side, though – if the independence referendum votes yes and the EU says no, we’re out of the EU. If the referendum throws up a no vote, there’s still the hope that the Tories will push through their referendum on leaving the EU in 2016 and we’ll get out then…..

And I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not either!

I’ll go and have a think about some contingency plans of my own, in case the referendum result is a Yes….



Open Season on Climate Change News!

Last night I decided to round up some of the latest stories I’d run across concerning climate change. This morning, lo and behold, there’s a new clutch to catch up on!

The European Space Agency’s Cryosat has provided data for a new study on Antarctic ice loss, published in Geophysical Research Letters. The study confirms that, overall, the Antarctic is losing ice mass – some parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet at a rate of 9m of ice thickness per year, while the East Antarctic is basically balanced between snow falling and ice melting. While this has been the accepted position for some years, the new data confirms that the rate of thinning in West Antarctica is now 31% greater than it was between 2005-2011.

In Nature Geoscience, a paper published today suggests that Greenland’s fjords are very much longer than was thought, which in turn means that the glaciers that meet the sea in these fjords can retreat much further than previously believed before they lose contact with seawater and slow their rate of ice-loss. This, consequently, means Greenland’s ice sheet may melt faster and further than has been anticipated.

And on the adaptation front, the UK’s Environment Agency chairman has suggested that Dutch-style floating homes would be an appropriate response to the horrendous flooding experienced at the beginning of the year in some parts of England. There is, apparently, no chance that people might just stop building their homes on flood plains. I wonder why it’s taken them so long to realise that the Dutch have some excellent adaptation plans in hand and, perhaps more to the point, how long it’ll take to convince our bureaucrats to accept such ideas in the UK planning permission system? Hopefully, not too long – particularly if the exceptionally wet winter just past is any indicator of future trends!

And having rounded up these strays, I look forward to tomorrow’s fresh hatch of news….

Climate News Roundup

A few climate change-related items culled from this week’s news….

First up, a paper published in Nature this week suggests that tropical storms are tracking further from the tropics than they used to  – by about 52-63km per decade over the past three decades. That may not sound a lot, but if it means hurricanes are managing to wreck havoc over larger areas, that’s not good news. A little googling suggests that it’s already possible for Atlantic hurricanes to maintain their strength as far north as the Faroes (Huricane Faith, in 1966) so that puts “hurricane hits UK” well into the realms of possibility.

On a much longer-term note, it’s suggested in a paper to be published in Geophysical Research Letters that 6 of West Antarctica’s biggest glaciers are now in unstoppable, irreversible decline – PIne Island, Smith, Kohler, Thwaites, Haynes and Pope glaciers – have retreated by varying distances (10-35km) between 1992 and 2011 and the shape of the seabed under these glaciers has no obstacles to stop relatively warm waters circulating under the ice and melting them further. It will probably take centuries, but eventually these glaciers may completely disappear, adding about another 1.3m to global sea levels. One for our great-grandchildren to finally deal with, perhaps, yet happening now.

A startling paper released by Anglia Ruskin university in the south-east of England, suggesting that the UK has less than 5 years of fossil fuel reserves left. Given the size of the UK’s known coal reserves, not to mention the various oil and gas fields that haven’t dripped dry yet or the still hotly-contentious proposals to frack for gas in England, this paper has raised some brows, to put it mildly. Leaving aside the fact that it’d be better for the environment if we could switch off fossil fuels in the next five years, a bit of leg-work indicates that the source for this report’s take on coal is a single report by BP which clearly states under “Methodology” that

Proved reserves of coal are generally taken to be those quantities that geological and engineering information indicates with reasonable certainly can be recovered in the future from known deposits under existing economic and operating conditions.

Now, the catch here is that ‘existing economic and operating conditions’ are that the UK has 3 operating mines and 2 of them are due to close shortly. In other words, we have lots of coal left – but we’re not going to dig it up. So it might be more accurate to say that the UK will not be producing coal in 5 years…. which is a very different thing to “no coal left”!

I have no quarrel with it staying safely buried. If only we could leave a lot more of our fossil fuels underground instead of turning them into greenhouse gases in the atmosphere!

In the Pacific Ocean, the clock is ticking on declaring a state of El Nino – the pool of warm water that travelled eastwards as a “Kelvin Wave” in the early part of the year has now entered the “upwelling” phase as it’s reached the coast of South America and sea surface temperatures have risen accordingly. If the sea surface temperature remains above certain limits for three months or more, then NOAA will declare El Nino to be in existence. All the signs are that this is very likely to happen this year – most forecasts seem to be around 80% likelihood – and if the rise in temperature already seen is anything to go by, it could be a severe El Nino at that. More data and the expert opinions available from NOAA.


Allotments and Air-rifles

To begin with, a quick update on the allotment. I’ve had a fairly busy week elsewhere in life and the weeds have been enjoying some serious rampaging in my absence so today was weeding day – the onions, the shallots, even the potatoes all got hand-weeded, the artichokes were hoe’d. The peas are doing fine, clinging to their strings and poles nicely, and today I put out 16 runner beans, a dozen pot-grown parsnips (I plant them in toilet roll inners that then rot in the ground when planted out, so I don’t have to disturb their roots), sowed the buckwheat and some more beetroot. The fennel seed I sowed has disappeared without trace – possibly it needs a frost to make the seed germinate? Never mind – I’ll lift some of our abundant self-seeded youngsters from the back garden and transplant them.

Also on the transplant list will be more of our white deadnettle, a very pale variegated Lamium alba, more alpine strawberries, more purple bugle and more black violets – I had planted some of each of these out on my southern boundary both as bee-plants and to start spreading ground-cover over the fairly steep bank there, but in the course of a volunteer team running a water line to a tap at the end of the allotment site, they managed to completely dig up my bank and destroy all my plantings, leaving subsoil even on the beds within the plot at that end! A complaint has been made but it’s one of those things in allotment life – people make mistakes and all you can do is complain and move on. At least it won’t cost us money to replace the plants – just time, effort and sweat.

Helping me in the course of my weeding today was a rook. I don’t particularly mind rooks (the brassicas and legumes are either too small to interest them or safely under netting) but they are classed as an agricultural pest and I am entitled to shoot the trespassing beasts as a threat to my crops, just as I can shoot rats, rabbits and woodpigeons which attempt to relieve me of my harvest.

This brings me to an issue that gets my hackles up. Scotland’s Justice Minister, for no good reason and in the face of 87% opposition in the public consultation, has put forward a bill to introduce licensing for all airguns in Scotland. At the moment, airguns with a muzzle energy of less than 12fps are not subject to any licensing – there are strict legal safety requirements for their use, but you don’t have to pay the government for a piece of paper saying you can have one. We have two in the house, in fact – I have one, and my daughter has one. We enjoy target shooting at a local range and we use them for pest control. I would be entirely within my legal rights, as things stand, to go pot pigeons and bunnies (and rooks, though in fact I would not use a low-powered air-rifle to shoot rooks, it’s not powerful enough to kill cleanly) if I felt they were endangering my food crops.

I’ve been an air-gunner for nigh-on 40 years, since my father and brothers taught me to shoot in our back garden when I was barely bigger than the air-rifle. I have never injured an animal other than the one I’ve aimed at, I’ve never injured another human, I’ve never handled a gun unsafely. I am livid that I will shortly (almost undoubtedly and most undemocratically) have to either prove that I “need” an air-rifle and pay who-knows-what for the licence, or give up my air-rifles, my sport and my ability to control crop pests or, if SHTF, acquire protein (yes, wild rabbits are edible too, and so are wood-pigeons, squirrels, rooks and rats. I’d have to be desperate to eat rat but if it’s rat kebab or starve….)

The really infuriating thing is that our politicians never learn the simple, basic fact that if you criminalise gun ownership, only criminals possess and use them. There was an incident in the 1900s when a terrorist group in London were brought to bay by police officers who borrowed handguns from the public to return fire. If the police need backup now,  about the best any law-abiding citizen can do is provide them with a clean white handkerchief so they can surrender. Goodness knows, the plethora of legislation on handguns, rifles, shotguns, airguns and even penknives has ensured that not only can the ordinary law-abiding citizen not even defend themselves against a violent criminal armed with an illegal firearm but can’t even carry a pocketknife to go camping without risk of arrest and a criminal record, and has abundantly proved that regulating firearms and sharp objects doesn’t stop crime or criminals. Now, when airgun offences are at an all-time low, suddenly they’re going to strongly restrict our right to own or use them. This will not stop the sort of morons who misuse airguns for one second. They don’t respect the existing laws, so why should they pay any attention to the new licensing scheme?

The craziest thing of all is that, if this idiotic bill becomes law, it’ll be easier and cheaper to get a Shotgun Certificate and keep a double-barrel 12-bore in the house. I don’t have to prove I need one of those – they have to prove I’m not fit to own one! If I have to prove I need an air-rifle, I can equally well prove I need a .22 rifle and just go straight to a Firearms Certificate.


Return of the Feisty Ferret!

Readers may remember that, almost a month ago, I lost one of my ferrets after bad weather damaged their cage. I had given up all hope for my little jill Fursty but a couple of days ago the village grapevine passed on a rumour that the SSPCA had picked up a stray ferret on the other side of the village.

I phoned the SSPCA (Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and they confirmed that they had indeed picked up a smallish jill ferret at the end of April, and an exchange of emails and photos confirmed that their stray was my lost Fursty! She’d managed to survive without human assistance for two weeks and, apart from a chipped canine tooth, was in perfect health when they collected her. I drove to the Aberdeenshire rehoming centre yesterday and picked her up (leaving a healthy donation in exchange, of course!) and reunited her with her brother. They took one look at each other and started some mutual grooming, then curled up in the nestbox together, just like old times. I’ve never known how long a ferret’s memory is, but certainly they didn’t look at all as if they’d forgotten each other!

Sleepy morning ferrets!

Sleepy morning ferrets!

This morning they did their normal yawn-stretch-slither routine out of the cage when I opened it. Ferrets are not natural daytime creatures – they’re most active at dawn and dusk with a natural propensity for tunnels and dark corners. Once out of the cage they perk up and play while I clean and refresh food and water – I keep some old sections of clay pipe lying around for them to scamper through and around.

Tag in pipes - a favourite ferret game.

Tag in pipes – a favourite ferret game.

Once they’re awake they usually scurry about examining anything they can find, including any pot plants nearby.They like digging and plantpots give them an ideal place to excavate.

Gardening tips by ferrets....

Gardening tips by ferrets….

I’m glad to report that despite their spirited attempt to repot the rosemary, the plant survived!

Radish and Rabbits

I pulled my first radish on the allotment yesterday – young, tender, crunchy and delicious. It feels symbolic, to have harvested the first item from the allotment, and hopefully things will improve from here! I also brought home a sack full of weeds so the rabbits and chickens had a feast.

The potatoes that were frost-nipped have now recovered and put up fresh foliage and yesterday we also planted out borecole and a few more onions. Borecole has done very well for us in the past and the bunnies and chooks enjoy eating it as much as we do so we’ve put out about 40 plants – some in the garden here and some on the allotment – in the hopes of having a plentiful supply.

Trudy the rex doe had her first encounter with Samson the NZW buck on Friday – it’s always fun when both parties haven’t a clue what to do but a bit of quick rearrangement of Trudy  (by me) saw Samson pointed in the right direction and the mating looked successful. I put them together again this morning and had to separate them again quickly as Trudy tried her best to kick the stuffing out of poor Samson – typical rabbit behaviour! They may be cute and cuddly but nobody said they were nice! It’s a clue that she is indeed in kindle (pregnant) so the dates are on the calendar and she’ll be getting her nestbox and nesting material in due course. With a first litter you never know if the doe will deal competantly with her babies or not – they usually do –  but fingers crossed Trudy turns out a good mum. If she flunks the first time, she’ll get a second chance. Very often a bunny who makes a total muff of the first litter gets her act together for the second.

April Showers

Despite a week of changeable weather, some progress has been made on various fronts. The peas are out from under their cloches and climbing their peasticks nicely, the barley is out from under the fleece and looks like it’s trying to catch up with the commercial crop in the nearby field. Today I sowed the root parsley, parsnips, swedes and the rest of the Manchester Table carrots – I still have some Touchon carrots for successional planting. The radish are shooting away nicely and I should be harvesting the first some time next week, the way they’re going at the moment, and I sowed another couple of rows of beetroot as well. When the sun’s shining there’s some real warmth in it and the plants are responding – but we’re also still liable to the occasional frost and the potatoes got nipped slightly the other night. The lower growth will catch up in due course but the top leaves have wilted.

In the potting shed, the early parsnips are nearly ready to plant out and the beans are sprouting madly – every time I look, there’s another two-inch shoot popped up! They come up curled and uncurl very rapidly once they’re free of the soil, seeming to leap into life.

I’ve been trying to work out a routine on sprouting grain for the bunnies and it’s starting to settle, though I seem to be averaging 12 days to decent length greenery rather than the 8 days most of the sources I’ve read seem to get. Curiously, the bucks adore their barley sprouts while the does can take them or leave them. They’re all getting plenty of fresh mixed weeds from the garden every day as well as their daily kibble ration and ad-lib dried grass so they’re not exactly forced to eat anything they don’t like!

We’re currently extending the hen run to give them more foraging space – there’s a big old fir tree at the end of the garden and we can’t grow anything under its canopy, but the dry fallen leaves make a great scratching place for chickens and our last batch of hens used to roost up the tree as well as live under it. At the moment we’re just re-fencing it, since some of the existing fence posts have rotted away after nearly thirteen years in the ground, then we’ll open up a pop-hole to give the hens access and watch the glee on their little faces as they start scratching around for fresh insects. It’s not as if they’re short of space at the moment but the different terrain and the novelty will be good for them.

Once they have that extra space, we’ll be thinking about putting a clutch of fertile eggs under the next hen to go broody – one of the Black Rocks is broody at the moment but we’re not ready yet so she’s getting shut into an old dog-crate with her food and water and put outside in the run to make her uncomfortable so she loses the urge to nest and gets back to laying again. It’s good to know they still have the proper brooding instinct, though – and next time, we’ll set half a dozen or so eggs from a table breed to hatch.